Lichtenstein’s Standing Explosion #3 (Yellow) comes from a pivotal moment in the artist’s practice when he began to tackle new subject matter, leaving behind the mundane to address some of the most pressing issues from the world around him. With mounting anxiety throughout the United States around threats of nuclear explosions following the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the ever-growing tensions around the Vietnam War, Lichtenstein’s Standing Explosion #3 (Yellow) captures a cultural moment particular to the 1960s and addresses some of the most emotionally brimming associations of this time head-on. In this context, the sculpture is imbued with a distinctly feverish energy, pushing its impact beyond the clean lines, primary colors, and simple shapes that constitute this work from a formal perspective. This explosive imagery became one of Lichtenstein’s signature motifs, seen first within paintings such as Blam, painted in 1962 and in the permanent collection of the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven and in Whaam! from 1963, featured in the permanent collection of the Tate Modern in London. However, it was not until 1965 that the artist expanded his explosion imagery beyond the canvas to become a standalone object in its own right.
With the present work, Lichtenstein has extracted a fragment of highly dynamic imagery and brilliantly flattened it with the utmost sophistication, rendering only its most fundamental and basic formal qualities before inviting his blast back into the three-dimensional space it originally inhabited. The sculpted form presents an engaging juxtaposition between the sturdy physicality of his chosen steel support and the fleeting nature of an explosion itself. As Diane Waldman noted, "Lichtenstein's sculpture is an extension of his painting. With enamel, Lichtenstein accomplished two objectives: he reinforced the look of mechanical perfection that paint could only simulate but not duplicate and it provided the perfect opportunity to make an ephemeral form concrete" (Daine Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York 1971, p. 23). By placing this fleeting explosive moment into a stable and constant everlasting form, Lichtenstein invites us to consider a profound collision between the momentary and the eternal with this powerful work.
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